Lots of Blackhawks fans are placing blame on the job general manager Stan Bowman did last summer for the team’s perceived inability to compete.
With the ability to evaluate the additions made via free agency 52 games later, did Bowman miss the boat?
First of all, to address the perception that the Blackhawks can’t win, that’s not accurate. They’re sixth in the Western Conference with 65 points, one point out of fourth and five points ahead of seventh; they would be winning the Southeast and Pacific Divisions right now.
But is this roster without flaws? Obviously not. When you allow eight goals to the team sitting 14th in the Western Conference, there’s plenty of ammunition for angst.
However, when assigning blame to the general manager’s office for his summer additions “not working out,” one needs to put those complaints in a proper context. And context should change the perception of the job Bowman last summer.
Consider some of the deals that were handed to free agent forwards last summer.
Joel Ward, Washington Capitals
Four years, $12M
Ward was a guy lots of Hawks fans were high on as a physical forward. How has he repaid the Caps for his big deal? In 49 games, he has 14 points (five goals, nine assists), 39 hits, 32 blocked shots and is plus-six. Washington has him for three more years.
Max Talbot, Philadelphia Flyers
Five years, $8.75M
Talbot’s another guy that lots of Chicago fans were big on (including us). In 50 games with the Flyers, Talbot has 12 goals, 10 assists, 85 hits, 45 blocked shots and 32 penalty minutes while averaging 16:06 per game. He’s having a good season, but was he worth five years to the Blackhawks? In the third year of the deal, when Talbot is 31, Andrew Shaw might be the same player and eight years younger.
Sean Bergenheim, Florida Panthers
Four years, $11M
Again, here’s a forward that lots of people in Chicago liked. But what has Florida received for their multi-year contract? In 29 games, he has seven goals and one assist, is minus-three, and has accounted for 51 hits and 12 blocked shots.
Darroll Powe, Minnesota Wild
Three years, $3.2M
Powe, a guy who can play center that had the eye of some in Chicago, has 96 hits and 51 blocked shots while averaging 13:41 on the ice every night for the Wild. But he’s winning only 41.2 percent of his faceoffs and has produced only nine points (four goals, five assists) with 30 penalty minutes and is minus-nine in 51 games.
Instead of these guys, who did Bowman sign?
One year, $500k
5 goals, 6 assists, 54.8% faceoffs, 71 hits, 9 blocked shots, 9:32 ATOI
One year, $2M
9 goals, 10 assists, -9, 7 power-play points, 12:48 ATOI
One year, $775k
2 goals, 9 assists, 82 PIM, done for the year after 2 suspensions and 28 games
We won’t deny that Bowman didn’t hit a home run with Brunette or Carcillo, but Mayers was as good as any forward deal in the division last summer. For the role he’s been asked to play, he’s been fantastic; in fact, we’ve argued that he should play a bigger role.
The summer free agent class in 2011 wasn’t very good, and players were grossly overpaid all over the league. Rather than reach on a guy with a multi-year mistake, Bowman played it safe with one-year deals for three guys that filled a need from the 2010-11 roster’s performance.
On the blue line, we won’t defend Sami Lepisto. He continues to be a ghost and waste the 23rd roster spot on the NHL roster. But Sean O’Donnell, who also received a one-year deal worth $850k, has played the role of seventh defenseman well this season.
The biggest question mark from the summer spending of Bowman has to be Steve Montador. After his negotiating rights were acquired for the draft pick Bowman landed in exchange for Tomas Kopecky’s rights (another awful contract by the way), the Hawks handed Montador a four-year, $11M deal.
In 49 games, Montador has 14 points and is plus-four. He’s been credited with 48 hits and 45 blocked shots while skating an average of 15:05 per night, the fifth-highest ice time average among Hawks’ defensemen.
Looking around the NHL, though, the thin free agent class impacted spending on defensemen as well. Christian Ehrhoff was the only top-tier defenseman to hit the market, and Buffalo handed him $40M over 10 years.
When looking at players that would have fit a similar profile to Montador that Chicago could have signed, Tomas Kaberle (three years, $12.75M) and Ed Jovanovski (four years, $16.5M) both received more money per year than Montador. Kaberle’s already disappointed one team enough to be traded, and Jovanovski is now out with a broken hand suffered in a fight.
Again, while the length of the deal might cause an eyebrow to twitch, the cap hit of Montador’s deal is favorable to the franchise relative to what other teams were spending. Has he filled a top-four role? No. And does the naked eye see a good reason for both Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson to be here for two more years after the 2011-12? Not right away. But considering the need and the market from which Bowman had to choose, the options were limited.
Again, is this roster perfect? Absolutely not. But it is always dangerous, and rarely responsible, to point a finger at one individual for the performance, good or bad, of a team. Certainly the general manager is responsible for putting together a competitive roster, but the standings still indicate that Bowman did precisely that.
And, as quickly as fans are willing to blame Bowman for the perceived mistakes, rarely does anyone give him credit for adding a player like Viktor Stalberg via trade or finding Andrew Shaw in the fifth round of this year’s draft.
The trade deadline is in four weeks, and Bowman’s restraint over the summer allows him more flexibility to fill the holes on this roster both now and in coming years through free agency.